30 January 2019
The task is enormous, and the path is narrow.
The grownups have finally won and everyone in the UK, from those in cold homes to those on polluted streets and in flooded towns, will benefit. The most important aspect of the UK government’s new clean growth strategy is its unequivocal statement that tackling climate change and a prosperous economy are one and the same thing.
This has been clear to many for some time, including Philip Hammond, if not his predecessor George Osborne. There is no long-term, high-carbon economic strategy because the impacts of unchecked climate change destroy economies, as Lord Nicholas Stern puts it.
But the Conservative party has long been swinging between the green dream and fossil-fuelled fantasies. David Cameron went from pledging the “greenest government ever” to dismissing the “green crap” in three years. Recent years have seen one green policy shredded after another, destroying confidence among the businesses we need to deliver a low-carbon economy.
The new strategy published on Thursday signals a new, if belated, beginning. It is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age: it is highly notable that the government plan omits any mention of fracking, having previously been its cheerleader.
The government had to produce this plan under its own climate laws to explain how it will get on track to meet the nation’s legally binding carbon targets in 2030 and beyond. But ministers have rightly made a virtue of the plan’s necessity.
The proposals themselves are ambitious but lack concrete suggestions in many areas. However, ambition always precedes action and there are plenty of groups, not least the government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, who will hold ministers to account.
If the government’s efforts to cut emissions from buildings have been slow, it is now taking seriously the need to address energy efficiency. Energy that isn’t used – negawatts – are by far the cheapest way to cut both emissions and energy bills. But as the vast failure of the green deal showed, efficiency is hard to make happen and it is here where firm plans are most urgently needed.
Along with heating, transport also needs urgent action – emissions here have been rising. There is plenty in the new plan to harness the surging market for electric vehicles, though little of it is new. Ministers have also once again failed to explain how expanding aviation with Heathrow’s third runway fits with its climate change plan.
Electric cars will need clean power and the UK’s electricity grid is already greening fast – coal power has fallen from 40% to 2% in the last five years. The new plan rightly builds on the UK’s success in dramatically driving down the cost of offshore wind power, yet it all but ignores an even cheaper source – onshore wind. It seems that even the conviction that the green economy is the UK’s future is not enough to face down the rural Tory-voting minority who continue to tilt at windmills. Solar power also seems destined to suffer the same fate.
Despite looking these gift horses in the mouth, and ignoring tidal power, the plan promises yet more cash for those with their snouts in the nuclear trough. The hyper-expensive Hinkley Point farce has not dulled the appetite for more new nuclear power and it intends to plough by far the biggest sum of its innovation funding into the one energy technology where costs are always rising.
But the biggest worry is the very limited support for carbon capture and storage, the technology that takes emissions from fossil fuels and buries them under the ground. CCS is seen as absolutely vital by the Committee on Climate Change, the National Audit Office and the UN’s climate science panel and the UK’s emptying North Sea fields are perfectly placed carbon reservoirs. But CCS gets only about a quarter of the investment of nuclear and just a tenth of the £1bn promised in the plan so abruptly canned by Osborne in 2015.
Trees are natural carbon stores and the new plan pledges to “establish a new network of forests in England, including new woodland on farmland”, which offers a tantalising glimpse of the radical change to farm subsidies that may follow Brexit. But there is no mention of the reduction in meat consumption deemed essential in beating global warming by scientists.
However, while many of the details are missing, the clean growth strategy marks an important and vital step forward for the UK. As the prime minister Theresa May says in the plan’s foreword: “Clean growth is not an option, but a duty we owe to the next generation. Success in this mission will improve our quality of life and increase our economic prosperity.” The strategy is now crystal clear – it is time to deliver.
For the 180th time, Sheldon Whitehouse took to the Senate floor this month to warn of the perils of climate change, blasting the fossil fuel industry, corporate greed and the failure of market capitalism to address global warming.
Each week for years, largely without fail, the junior senator from Rhode Island waxes philosphical about ocean acidification, atmospheric temperature rise, devastated coastal communities, increases in storms, fires and floods. And every week, he urges Congress and the American people to act before it is too late.
But is anyone listening?
"I don't know," the Democrat recently told E&E; News during a sit-down in his office. "After all that effort, I certainly hope and pray it had an impact."
Whitehouse has gained a reputation as a lefty progressive with anti-capitalist undertones who rages against greedy corporate interests and the Koch brothers.
But he said he sees market capitalism as the most effective way to address global warming, much more so than increased regulation, a common Democratic battle cry. And the climate hawk is working to find common ground with those who once appeared to be his enemies.
In the wake of unprecedented extreme weather events such as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria, the subject of climate change is back in the spotlight. And the administration's move to kill the Clean Power Plan gives lawmakers more room to act.
In a change from years past, more Republicans are joining Whitehouse and beginning to call for action. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said last month he would work with Whitehouse on a bipartisan carbon fee bill.
"I'm a Republican. I believe that the greenhouse gas effect is real, that CO2 emissions generated by man is creating our greenhouse gas effect that traps heat and the planet is warming," Graham said during a press conference (Greenwire, Sept. 20).
Even though many activists on the left want caps on emissions, Whitehouse says a carbon fee is much more efficient. "You get much more climate bang for your effort buck," he said.
And while he is not shy to criticize the GOP for what he considers inaction on the global warming issue, he is equally willing to call out fellow Democrats, as well.
"Remember Will Rogers? The 1930s-era comedian who said, 'I'm not a member of any organized political party, I'm a Democrat,'" he said. "No, we've done an absolutely crap job of fighting this fight. We allowed it to become polar bears versus jobs, which is ridiculous on both sides."
There are more jobs in green energy and renewables now than in the fossil fuel industry, he said. "And it's not polar bears that are suffering, it's beaches and fishermen and farmers right here in the United States."
'Capitalism is the solution'
At issue, Whitehouse said, is not capitalism as an economic system, but rather what he sees as a perversion of that system.
"I think market capitalism is the solution to the problem," he said. "The difficulty here is that market capitalism has been twisted by the fossil fuel industry, and they have completely polluted and captured our politics so that the natural course of things has been interfered with."
The "natural course" refers to an inevitable market collapse that often accompanies innovation. Whitehouse said when the economy shifts, for example, from horses to internal combustion engines, there is a "quite precipitous and quite painful" fallout, but it is usually contained within the affected industries.
"In this case, we spin this out too far; while we're waiting for that natural eventual precipitous market collapse [of the fossil fuel industry] to take place, we're also doing all this other damage that will then come back to haunt us, and for which there will be considerable blame," he said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on the Senate floor. C-SPAN
Critics believe the very nature of capitalism works against environmental protection. In her award-winning book "This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate," author Naomi Klein argues capitalism necessitates ongoing economic growth.
The ever-growing consumption model requires never-ending resource extraction, she says, thereby exacerbating global warming through continued carbon emissions. Klein, and others on the left, are pushing for a new economic model.
This idea runs counter to Whitehouse's position. He argues market capitalism is not inherently problematic, but rather has been "torqued and polluted and ruined" by the fossil fuel industry.
More specifically, the industry "enjoys" an annual subsidy in the United States of more than a half-trillion dollars a year, according to the International Monetary Fund, he said.
"In theory, under market capitalism, those negative externalities in the amount of $700 billion a year ought to be baked into the price of the product," he said.
In economic theory, a negative externality is the cost that is suffered by a third party as the result of a market transaction.
"The markets work, but when you have negative externalities not in the price, that's an economic failure, an economic dislocation," Whitehouse said. "But because it's so to the benefit of the fossil fuel industry, they've stepped over into the political side and have just beat the hell out of everybody in order to protect that massive subsidy."
Whitehouse said that usually, on the political side, lawmakers would recognize the $700 billion as a negative externality, but Republicans — he thinks — have become indebted to industry donors.
"You can't smoke in airplanes any longer because now we know what secondhand smoke does to children sitting next to you in the airplane," he said. "They won't let us do the equivalent of that for climate change because they make too much money off of the status quo."
For Whitehouse, the fight for climate action is not only a fight for the preservation of the planet, but also for what he sees as core American values.
'Baked into me'
The child of a prominent diplomatic family, Whitehouse said he spent time in places such as Laos and Turkey growing up, and watching his kin make sacrifices for high ideals had an effect.
"I spent my life as the son and grandson of Foreign Service officers, and we were not on the champagne and cocktails diplomatic circuit," he said. "We were in poverty-ridden countries, and we were in countries at war, and what I grew up around were Americans who put themselves and their families in harm's way because they believed in something."
It was evident to him from an early age that something about America was important enough for family and friends to subject their loved ones to malaria, dirty drinking water or poor living conditions.
"They do it because something matters. So that got baked into me pretty hard," he said.
"And if we have let this temple of democracy that men and women fought and bled and died to create and preserve get corrupted by one special interest in a way that will harm the lives of people all around the world and bring the democracy that we cherish into disrepute, shame on us."
Whitehouse first became passionate about climate change through his wife, a marine biologist who shared her findings concerning sea-level rise and ocean acidification in their home-state Narragansett Bay.
"The bay in which my wife did her research on winter flounder has risen nearly 4 degrees medium underwater temperature, and the flounder that she used to study are virtually gone," he said.
When Whitehouse arrived on the Hill in 2007, lawmakers were taking climate change seriously and working to draft a solution, he said. From 2007 to 2009, there were "bipartisan bills coming out of all sorts of places," he said. In 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ran for president on a climate change platform Whitehouse considered "great."
"And I thought, OK, this is a scientific problem, but government is working on this, we're doing our job," he said. "Then comes 2010, Citizens United decision. Requested and forecasted by the fossil fuel industry from the five Republicans on the Supreme Court and boom, like sprinters at the starting gun, they were off."
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is the 2010 landmark Supreme Court case, which lifted restrictions on how much money large corporations can invest in political campaigns.
Since 2010, there has not been a Republican co-sponsor, with Graham as a potential exception, of serious carbon emissions reduction legislation, Whitehouse said.
"The fossil fuel industry took that huge political weaponry that they were given by the five Republicans on the Supreme Court in Citizens United and they turned it on the Republican Party and they crushed dissent, and they made [climate] look like a partisan issue, which it is not," he said.
'Science got me scared'
When a carbon cap-and-trade bill passed the House in 2009 but failed to gain traction in the Democrat-controlled Senate, Whitehouse was furious and began taking on the Senate floor to vent his frustrations with Congress' lack of action.
"The science got me scared, watching the corruption of the government that I love happen in front of my eyes got me mad," he said.
"So at that point, I thought, well, somebody has got to say something, just to let people know that the lights have not gone out here. The only way to do that around here with people as busy as they are is to put yourself on a schedule and tell your office every week, no excuses, no exceptions, I'm going to the floor."
And despite the yearslong quest, Whitehouse is convinced the climate change fight can be won. "I wouldn't rule out a carbon fee," he said. A confluence of action has given him hope.
In addition to Graham's announcement, large oil and gas players have said they support a carbon fee.
"Although they're lying, Exxon, Shell, Chevron, all the big oil companies, pretend to support carbon fee," he said. "So there's significance in their pretense, if they know they've got to at least pretend."
There is building support for a carbon fee in the business community, he said. In fact, more than 1,200 business across the globe, including U.S. companies like General Motors Co., are voluntarily assigning a dollar value to carbon dioxide to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Greenwire, Sept. 12).
And lastly, Whitehouse cited President Trump himself, who in 2009 signed onto a full-page ad in The New York Times saying climate change science is irrefutable and the consequences will be catastrophic and irreversible (E&E; News PM, Oct. 2).
"So is it a long shot? Yes, but those are all pretty interesting pieces that could come together as this thing develops," Whitehouse said.
"Ultimately, we win. We just hope that we don't win too late."
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BY DAVID SMILEY
Tomás Regalado is standing nearly knee deep in a murky stream of saltwater when a FedEx truck comes lumbering up Northeast 10th Avenue like a Boston Whaler, sending its wake over his rubber firefighter boots and down his blue slacks.
All around him, a seasonal high tide and steady rain have turned the southeast corner of Shorecrest, a coastal, blue-collar Miami neighborhood, into an extension of the Little River. Before the morning is out, he’ll post pictures of flooding in the city’s financial district on Twitter, announce that the bay is topping seawalls in downtown and compare a water-logged Thursday morning to the flooding caused by Hurricane Irma.
During a summer of extreme weather events, this feels like the new normal for Miami. And, oddly, for the Republican mayor of Miami.
“The city eventually has to deal with this,” Regalado says as a woman and boy across the street hop to a jeep, holding garbage bags around their feet to keep their shoes dry. “And the only way the city can do that is with the bonds.”
Over more than two decades in office, Regalado has built a career around populist stances intuitively crafted to resonate with a small, dedicated voting base that, despite Miami’s overall progressive lean, looks a lot like him: Hispanic, elderly and Republican. As mayor, cutting the tax rate has been among Regalado’s biggest talking points. Climate change not so much.
And yet, in his final days in office, here he is in the middle of a flooded street campaigning for a new tax to facilitate $400 million in government spending, nearly half of which will pay to protect the city from sea-level rise — an issue he admits doesn’t exactly rally his base or resonate with his party.
Spoiler alert. It's climate change
— Tomás Regalado (@Tomas_Regalado) October 5, 2017
“There are areas of heavy flooding. What I don’t know is if the people will have the incentive to vote for the bonds thinking that will protect them,” he told the Miami Herald. “To me, it’s an uphill battle.”
But Regalado’s own experience makes him believe there’s a chance.
The mayor, a 70-year-old former newsman who came to Miami in 1962 as part of the Pedro Pan exodus from Fidel Castro’s Cuba, won the mayor’s seat in 2009 with a simple campaign based on the idea that Miami — left in the depths of a recession and financial crisis despite a historic building boom — was a working-class city and not a metropolis. His platform was built as a rejection of the big-picture administration of predecessor Manny Diaz, at the time the Democratic head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Climate change wasn’t even part of his vernacular when voters elected Regalado to a second and final term four-year term in 2013. But that began to change around the time his youngest son moved back home intent on sharing global lessons of climate change after traveling the world as an underwater photographer.
“I moved back to my house and started waking up at 4 or 5 in the morning when my dad would wake up and that was the only time, about an hour, I would be able to talk to him. I would make him Cuban coffee, I would print out climate change things and little by little I would explain it,” said Jose Regalado, 32. “It was every day, kind of like the tides. Little by little.”
Then, in 2015, the mayor says, a trip to Montreal and conversations with world leaders outside the United States helped clarify the extent of Miami’s existential crisis. By 2016, Regalado was making his own waves, asking Republican presidential candidates during a nationally televised debate to tell Miami what they’d do to address rising seas. Last month, with Hurricane Irma bearing down on South Florida, he called on President Donald Trump to talk about climate change, encouraging a connection between rising surface water temperatures and hurricanes that his Democratic counterparts seemed unwilling to broach.
“They lacked the political courage,” he says.
But Regalado doesn’t have years to ebb away at voters’ skepticism the way his son worked with him. And while his late-blooming climate change activism might have won him national media coverage this summer, it’s done little to carry the water at home, where inattentiveness to sea-level rise earlier during his administration has left the city in an awkward position on the campaign trail.
Five years ago, Miami commissioned an engineering firm to study the city’s storm-water system and come up with a master plan to guide improvements to Miami’s flood-prevention system. That document is now a temporary backbone to the city’s estimated $1 billion in storm-water, sea-wall and flood-pump needs.
It’s temporary because the plan had a critical flaw: it didn’t take sea-rise projections into account. Shorecrest wasn’t identified as a community in critical need of improvements despite the fact that the neighborhood now experiences weeks of extreme tidal flooding every year. Plans to create water systems that rely heavily on gravity to flush water out of the streets had no projections for where water tables would lie 20 and 30 years down the road.
So even as Regalado is campaigning for the bond, the city is vetting firms to decide who will craft a new plan that will help dictate the specific projects the city will pursue and how much money it will need. Though line items were created by Regalado’s administration to show where they intend to spend the money, the basins to be improved and money to be spent are just place-holders until the city can come up with a proper plan.
“People are hesitant to say yes to more money regardless of where it comes from, especially when there’s no accountability,” says Denise Galvez Turros, a candidate running for city commission in the district that Regalado used to represent before he became mayor.
The mood in Hispanic neighborhoods like Little Havana and Flagami will likely prove crucial to Regalado’s campaign. While registered Democrats outnumber Republicans almost two-to-one in the city, a majority of those voters live in the city’s coastal communities, where sea-rise resonates but there’s no competitive mayor’s race or commission race to also draw them to the polls.
Republicans, meanwhile, turn out to Miami’s local elections in far better numbers than Democrats. The city’s western neighborhoods, where there are active commission races this year, skew Hispanic, Republican and older than 50 — and wary of tax increases. Nowhere is that bent more clear than in Regalado’s old commission district.
That’s a quandary for the mayor because the bonds would be leveraged through a new property tax. The debt would have to be structured in a way that ensures the portion of Miami’s property tax rate related to debt won’t rise higher than it stands today — a promise embedded in the ballot language — but the city’s tax rate related to debt would indisputably drop were the city to not pursue the general obligation bond. Miami’s unions were against putting the bond on the ballot.
“This is clearly a tax, but it’s even worse because it’s a tax without a plan. They don’t know what they’re going to do with the money, or how spending the money will impact flooding in the future,” said Eric Zichella, a local lobbyist who sits as a member of the city’s finance committee, which recommended against the bond issue. “I think the mayor should be careful that he campaigns for this very unpopular tax and it ends up hurting his son,” he added in reference to Tommy Regalado, who is running for city commission in District 3.
But Jane Gilbert, the city official tasked with coordinating its response to rising seas and climbing temperatures, says the key to promoting the bond is acknowledging the city’s challenges and trusting that Miami is working on the details to come up with a good plan. She stresses that a public board would have oversight of bond spending. And at $192 million, the money voters are being asked to approve would essentially be seed money to give the city resources to begin urgent projects and in the meantime seek matching grants.
“We have immediate needs to address our flood-risk problems,” Gilbert said one afternoon in early August next to a pump station under construction in Brickell, which had been flooded dramatically the previous day during a sudden and unexpected deluge that fell during a high tide and left people paddling kayaks in the street. “Our ground [water] level is higher and as we get storm events the whole river and canal systems are higher, as is the bay.”
To help sell the bond, Regalado is relying on the help of a non-profit sea-rise group called the Seawall Coalition, which is promising to spend $200,000 on an informational campaign and spent this past week in Miami gathering material. But Regalado, who has been successfully selling issues to Miami’s voters for decades, is doing his own campaigning.
“I’ve been to Holland and the Dutch have been dealing with sea-rise for hundreds of years. The only difference is they do things,” he said. “We haven’t done anything, yet.”
BY FRED PEARCE • OCTOBER 5, 2017
In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Gina Lopez, who served as the Philippines’ environment chief, talks about her embattled, short-lived tenure and explains why it’s so difficult to rein in the country’s powerful and environmentally destructive mining industry.
Gina Lopez is the scion of a wealthy Filipino family that owns the nation’s largest media conglomerate. Yet despite her privileged background, she has followed an unconventional path — living in an Indian ashram, working anonymously as a missionary in Africa for 11 years, and ultimately becoming an environmental activist in her native land.
That work, especially her campaign against the Philippines’ corrupt and highly destructive mining industry, brought her to the attention of President Rodrigo Duterte, a controversial figure best known for ordering the extrajudicial killings of drug dealers when he was mayor of Davao City. In June 2016, Duterte appointed Lopez as Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources. She did not waste time. She cracked down on illegal fishing, campaigned for renewable energy, and, most notably, banned open-pit mines and threatened to shut down more than half the country’s mining operations, saying their environmental destruction was wrecking the lives of farmers and fishermen in remote rural communities. But the powerful mining companies struck back, lobbying the country’s Congress and getting her thrown out of office last May.
In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Lopez, 63, who this week is receiving the Seacology Prize for her environmental work, describes the widespread damage caused by the Filipino mining industry, discusses why she still supports Duterte, and explains what drove her to take on the mining companies. “Before I took up the job, I decided to be true to myself,” she says. “If I had calculated and maneuvered, I would never have forgiven myself.”
Yale Environment 360: How did a radical like you get to become environment minister?
Gina Lopez: I had no plan to be in the government, but I had been campaigning against mines. I had visited many and I was horrified at the injustice, how the destruction of the environment damaged the lives of farmers and fishers. I had raised 10 million signatures to stop the mining. So when the presidential elections were coming up last year, I went to all the presidential candidates. I showed them pictures of the environmental damage and gave them data from universities and research institutions. Out of all of the candidates, the one who came out unstintingly on my side was Rodrigo Duterte. When I showed him the pictures, he said, “You want me to kill them?” I said, “No, but, sir, I really love you. I’m giving you my support.”
After he became president, I went back to him and asked him to stop the mining. He looked at me and said, “Why don’t you just become the environment secretary?” I felt that if I could stay true to my beliefs, it would be an opportunity to do good for the country. So I went for it.
“I began to take away the permits of mining companies that worked in areas like watersheds, where it was against the law.”
e360: But you got pushed out of office only 10 months later. What went wrong?
Lopez: One of the first things I did when I took office was a mines audit. Because the mining happens in far-flung places, nobody in power ever sees it. So I spent 16 million pesos on travel in military choppers to see for myself. And I took the media with me. For the first time, people saw what was going on. A lot of it was illegal. And I arranged interviews with farmers and fishermen. Their voices had never been heard before.
Gina Lopez discusses the environmental impacts of mining in the Philippines. WATCH THE VIDEO by DENR.
After exposing the problem, I began to take away the permits of mining companies that worked in areas like watersheds, where it was against the law. And I banned open-pit mining of gold, copper, silver, and mercury, because that is the worst. The pits are all near rivers and streams, because the pits flood and the mining companies have to pump the waste out and get rid of it. What is poured into the rivers gets really acidic. It poses huge dangers. Meanwhile, the pumping dries up peoples’ wells. I issued closure orders for 22 mines. People were angry, but I was just implementing laws that had been there for decades. They were just not implemented.
e360: So the mining companies ganged up against you?
Lopez: Yes. My appointment had to be confirmed by Congress. Mining funds political parties in the Philippines, so they are powerful. Members of the appointments commission owned mines that I had ordered to be closed. I knew I was stepping on very big business toes, but my family is also quite strong politically. It had even helped some of the [commission] members in their political campaigns. I was close to some of the senators and their families myself. That’s how it is in the Philippines. In the vote, some of the commission members supported me, but not enough. Before I took up the job, I decided to be true to myself. If I had calculated and maneuvered, I would never have forgiven myself.
A nickel mine in Claver, Surigao del Norte, as seen during an aerial survey by Lopez's agency in 2016. ATOM ARAULLO/TWITTER
e360: Tell me about the mining companies.
Lopez: They are mostly owned by the country’s elite. And they can usually do what they want. The government is very weak. And the mines do not benefit the people. Wherever there is mining, the poverty level is higher than the national average. One of the worst mines was a copper and gold mine run by Canadians with local partners. It killed two rivers, and now 24 years later, those two rivers are still dead. The Canadians have gone back to Canada, and their Filipino partners went off and did another mine, which has done the same atrocious thing.
e360: What about Palawan Island? That’s always regarded as the most pristine. Are the miners moving in there?
Lopez: Yes. Palawan is gorgeous. There are five mines there already. One has turned the water of a river that you could once drink to a dark brown color. There are lots of mining applications for Palawan. Before I got involved, there were 100 mining applications. Now, that’s been cut down. I don’t think many of the companies would have the guts to do anything in Palawan right now.
e360: Do you have confidence in your successor, or do you fear that your work will be undone now?
Lopez: My successor is a military guy and has very little experience with the environment. That’s unfortunate. He’s being very, very careful, because he saw what happened to me. He will need to have the guts to step on business toes, otherwise they will continue to rape the country.
e360: What about the civil servants in the environment department? Will they carry on your work?
Lopez: When I was there, I shifted a lot of people, because I have no tolerance for corruption. I found out that some of my officials had given land to themselves. If this had been the corporate sector, I would have just said, “Get the hell out of here. I don’t want you here.” But in government there are processes. The people that I don’t like unfortunately are back in power.
“The president has a bad reputation in the international media, but my experience with him is that he really feels for the poor.”
e360: What do you think about the president now?
Lopez: The president has continued to support me. He’s not in favor of mining that causes suffering. He has a bad reputation in the international media, but my experience with him is that he really feels for the poor. That’s why he stamps down on drugs, because his perception is that it jeopardizes the lives of our youth. I feel his heart is sincere and genuine in his regard for the underprivileged. That’s why I continue to support him.
e360: But he boasts about having killed people, and sends out others to kill those involved in drugs.
Lopez: My foreign friends feel really, really bad about that. And I can understand. I’m not making any judgment. But having sat with the president in cabinet meetings, I know the drug thing really preoccupies him. He’s addressing it in a way that he found successful when he was mayor of Davao. His experience is that if you take a strong approach, people will behave. Davao is really peaceful now.
e360: Tell me about your upbringing. I think your father was imprisoned by President Ferdinand Marcos.
Lopez: I was fortunate to have a mother and a father who were spiritual and who came from principled and loving families. My family set up a media company, ABS-CBN, which has top TV channels and the newspaper Manila Chronicle. When Marcos was president, he required the businesses to give him 1 percent. We refused, and our media attacked Marcos. He didn’t take it lightly. When he declared martial law in 1972, he took over the TV station and put my father in jail.
After that, I went to school in Boston. I got involved in meditating. The Philippines is very Catholic, but sometimes there’s no experience of the divine. It is just rituals. When I went to an Indian ashram I had a profound experience. I ended up joining them. I became a missionary and I left everything. It was a very austere life. I changed my name. Nobody even knew I was a Lopez. I set up orphanages and schools. I lived in Africa for 11 years.
“I thought that, if I wanted to make a difference, it’s much easier when you have money and connections.”
e360: Why did you come back to the Philippines?
Lopez: When I got pregnant, I decided to come back to my old life among the Manila elite. I thought that, if I wanted to make a difference, it’s much easier when you have money and connections. In 1999, one of my staff suggested that we campaign for the reforestation of the La Mesa Watershed, which was a kind of wasteland in the Manila slums around a reservoir. La Mesa provided most of the city’s drinking water and contained the remains of the city’s only rainforest. Our campaign succeeded. Now it has been a protected area for 10 years.
After that, one of my staff took me to see the mines in Palawan and that hit me really deeply. Not just the environment, but how the poor — the farmers, the fishermen, and the indigenous people — all suffer when the environment is destroyed.
I have campaigned against coal plants, too, because their pollution damages agriculture, fisheries, and the health of the people. Why should we burn coal when our country has lots of sun, as well as geothermal and wind? When I was in the government, I supported some solar energy projects. So we’re getting there.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS AT RISK
An e360 special report on the recent rash of killings of environmental activists worldwide. Read more.
e360: Global Witness says the Philippines is one of the three most dangerous countries in the world to be an environmental activist because there are so many assassinations. Have you ever felt in danger personally?
Lopez: No, never. I am part of the business elite. But 75 percent of those deaths here are connected to mining. One guy who worked for me in Palawan, a journalist called Gerry Ortega, was assassinated six years ago for his activism against mines. He was working with me on the 10 million signatures campaign. Palawan’s former governor, Joel Reyes, who is already in jail for taking bribes from mining companies, is also charged with being involved in Gerry’s murder.
French President Emmanuel Macron is making a high-stakes political gamble by promising to vote against an EU-wide license for the world’s most commonly used weedkiller: glyphosate.
Glyphosate is one of the EU’s most toxic political issues, particularly in the Continent’s Franco-German heartlands. Farmers see the herbicide as vital to preserve bumper harvests of crops ranging from barley to carrots, but there is also an intense public debate over whether it causes cancer.
That debate over whether it is safe to use is set to move toward endgame when representatives of the 28 EU member countries meet in Brussels on October 5 and 6 to discuss if they should renew its license for another 10 years.
On September 22, France dropped a bombshell and confirmed it would vote against a 10-year renewal of the herbicide. That 11th-hour non from Europe’s farming powerhouse raises the prospect of a doomsday scenario for farmers: that the whole EU could have to stop buying new batches of glyphosate from January 1.
At first glance, France’s decision would appear foolhardy. Politically, Macron is putting himself on a collision course with farmers, one of the rowdiest constituencies in the country, who protested the government’s stance on glyphosate on September 22 by blocking the Champs Elysées with tractors and bales of hay.
To France’s world-class cereals sector, the threat is existential. France is easily the EU’s leading producer of wheat, corn and barley, upon which some 450,000 jobs depend. Astonishingly for a country of its size, it is the world’s fifth-biggest wheat producer and competes with giants such as the U.S., Russia and Ukraine on global markets.
Arvalis, an agricultural research institute, estimated this summer that a full glyphosate ban could cost the sector some €976 million a year. For the farmers, the ban just doesn’t make sense. “We’re not ready to all go organic tomorrow,” said Véronique Le Floc’h, secretary-general of France’s second-largest farmers’ union Coordination Rurale.
Smoke and mirrors
In truth, French politicians and analysts do not believe Macron really wants to force the country to “go organic tomorrow.” Two out of three French farmers use glyphosate, according to an industry-funded study conducted by pollster Ipsos, and seen by POLITICO. A massive 85 percent of large farms rely on the chemical, the same study said, with its removal forecast to cut profits in the cereals sector by a third.
Instead, Macron wants to ride on the popularity of his Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot, a former presenter of nature documentaries, who has a highly valuable green-minded support base. Opposing a product so closely associated with U.S. agrichemical giant Monsanto is fundamental to Hulot, and his constituency. His environmental organization in April urged people to fight industrial lobbies and “mobilize against glyphosate.”
The government needs Hulot and his followers onside. A poll in June placed Hulot as the most popular politician in the country.
Most doubted Macron’s intentions when he positioned himself against glyphosate, and staunch ecologists quickly cried foul.
“They are going to pat themselves on the back for voting against a 10-year renewal, then abstain when a seven-year renewal comes up,” said Green MEP Yannick Jadot. “It’s smoke and mirrors … People think that Nicolas Hulot is some sort of magical figure making France more ecological. But he’s not winning on many fronts. This government loves to communicate on ecological issues, but the action is favoring the farmers.”
Indeed, the French government is already starting to map out the shape of a potential compromise. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s office said the government would endeavour to find a “reasonable transition toward phasing out glyphosate.” Macron himself has stressed the importance of using such time to find alternative herbicides.
In the clearest indication that Paris is not seeking disruption, Agriculture Minister Stéphane Travert said in an interview with the broadcaster RTL that France would support prolonging glyphosate’s license by “five to seven years” to allow time to find an alternative.
As Jadot notes, France’s vote is not necessarily decisive.
Curiously, France could count on being outvoted by countries such as the U.K., Spain or Poland, particularly if the final vote were for a phase-out rather than a ban.
While the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded glyphosate was a probable carcinogen in 2015, many governments take their guidance from the European Food Safety Authority and European Chemicals Agency, which have ruled that it is safe.
Looking for alternatives
Emmanuel Aze, a spokesman for the French farmers’ union Confédération Paysanne, said he had “zero trust” that the government would see through a ban, namely because the cereals sector is too important to cast aside.
But Eric Alauzet, the sole Green MP in French Parliament (others have taken on the colors of Macron’s centrist La République en Marche party) disagreed.
Macron, he said, was preparing the ground for a ban on glyphosate that would be self-evident in a few years’ time in light of new studies, just as asbestos and other noxious substances were banned after a lengthy period of evaluation.
“The idea is not to aggravate the farmers or go against them out of principle,” he said. “It’s to help them prepare for the next phase in agriculture, when studies will confirm the ill effects of glyphosate and force them to find different products anyway … The government is just trying to be forward-looking.”
That is exactly the prospect that farmers fear. Le Floc’h admitted it could be possible to find alternatives eventually, but pointed out that researchers could take years to find one as effective. “If you get rid of something, you have to come forward with an alternative,” she said.
Grégory Besson-Moreau, a parliamentarian from a rural wine-producing constituency who supports phasing out glyphosate, also underlined the paramount importance of finding a glyphosate replacement. “If we don’t find one, this will be a carnage for farming,” he said.
Hulot, meanwhile, is pushing the president to be as ambitious as possible, though without any hard and fast “contract” on principles to respect. “He’s trying to go as far as possible,” said Alauzet of Hulot. “If in three or six months he finds it hard to advance, that would mean leaving the government.”
However, he said ecologists were better off staying inside government than leaving it, as the Greens did in 2014, leaving former President François Hollande’s cabinet in a spat over nuclear power.
Alauzet noted that environmentally-conscious voters, who he estimated at up to 15 percent of the electorate, were important to Macron, and the president knew he had to keep them sweet.
“He knows what he owes to ecological voters. If you look at Macron’s action in the carbon tax, making France the first big European country to adopt such ambitious standards, it’s clear that he knows this must remain a priority.”
For Le Floc’h, a ban means France will slip from cereals powerhouse to second-rate power. She said the economic impact is clear. “It means less revenue, more costs,” she said. “We see suicides here and there.”
ORLANDO -- Florida leaders need to step up immediately to prepare for perhaps hundreds of thousands of evacuees from Puerto Rico, Orlando area legislators and progressive activists declared Sunday at a news conference.
“We need to have a special session right now to deal with this crisis,” said Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith. “We need to have as a state all hands on deck to be able to deal with what is happening on the island of Puerto Rico. We cannot wait until Jan. 1.”
His colleague, Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado, choked up as she noted that, like countless others in Florida, she family members on Puerto Rico unaccounted for 10 days after Hurricane Maria Struck, and millions of people on the island lack power and running water.
“To prepare for this influx of hundreds of thousands of Americans to Florida we believe it is vital that the state responds proactively to ease the impact on state and local governments and reduce the challenges that evacuees themselves will face,” said Mercadoo, who has urged the governor to establish relief centers to help evacuees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Gov. Rick Scott has not responded to the request for a special session, but he reiterated Sunday that his administration is mobilizing resources to provide relief on the island and help evacuees coming to Florida.
“As Puerto Rico continues to respond to and recover from Hurricane Maria, Florida stands ready to deploy all available resources and personnel to our neighbors to help in these efforts,” he said in a statement.
“Last week, during my visit to Puerto Rico with Governor Ricardo Rosselló, I saw the complete and total devastation brought to Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. The crisis in Puerto Rico is unlike anything we have seen before and Florida is going to do everything in our power to help everyone impacted by this storm get back on their feet. I will continue to make sure that our state leaders are in contact with officials in Puerto Rico. The State of Florida stands with Puerto Rico and will keep working to make sure they have everything they need.,” Scott said.
The governor said National Guard, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Division of Emergency Management, and other state agencies are working with federal and Puerto Rican officials. Many state colleges and universities, including University of Central Florida, University of Florida, and Florida State, are waiving out-of-state tuition fees for students displaced by Maria, and disaster relief centers in Florida are in the works.
Sunday’s news conference at Iglesia Episcopal Jesus de Nazaret church was organized by Vamos4PR, an offically non-partisan group funded by Democratic-leaning unions and other organizations.
“We’re coming here today to address a huminitarian crisis. This isn’t politics. This about human life. We’re here for people,” said Father Jose Rodriguez, the church rector who said he is a Republican.
But policy is politics, and many of the myriad policies advocated by speakers Sunday to help evacuees -- restoring affordable housing funding in the state budget, expanding Medicaid, aggressively responding to climate change, allowing Puerto Rico to write off $72 billion in public debt -- are largely priorities for Democrats, not Republicans.
“Puerto Rico’s economic refugees have already been paying dearly for housing, and as we continue to see the growing impacts of climate change, a new group of climate refugees are likely to come to the mainland with even fewer resources and will face an even more difficult time locating affordable housing,” said Yulissa Arce, regional director of Organize Florida, which advocates for low- and moderate-income Floridians.
The devastation caused by Maria could have significant political repercussions in Florida, where statewide elections tend to be neck and neck. Puerto Ricans are one of the fastest growing populations in Florida and tend to lean Democrat, though both parties are courting them. Perceptions about the state’s response to Maria could be a vote driver in competitive races in 2018, including Gov. Scott’s expected campaign for U.S. Senate.
No one singled Gov. Scott out for specific criticism Sunday, but several suggested the Republican agenda in Tallahassee on issues like affordable housing and access to health insurance will come under greater scrutiny as people in need stream into Florida from Puerto Rico.
State Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando, said his constituents have been taken aback that President Trump attacked the Mayor of San Juan rather than simply promising her more help was on the way.
“It shows people the consequences of not voting. Elections have consequences,” he said of Trump. “And don’t forget, next year is an election for governor, senate, and other offices. People are watching and won’t forget. We won’t let them.”
What’s Up in Coal Country:
Miners may have just the skills for scaling wind
towers and putting solar panels on roofs. And that’s
no small thing in Wyoming and West Virginia.
By DIANE CARDWELLSEPT. 30, 2017
From the mountain hollows of Appalachia to the vast open plains of Wyoming, the coal industry long offered the promise of a six-figure income without a four-year college degree, transforming sleepy farm towns into thriving commercial centers.
But today, as King Coal is being dethroned — by cheap natural gas, declining demand for electricity, and even green energy — what’s a former miner to do?
Nowhere has that question had more urgency than in Wyoming and West Virginia, two very different states whose economies lean heavily on fuel extraction. With energy prices falling or stagnant, both have lost population and had middling economic growth in recent years. In national rankings of economic vitality, you can find them near the bottom of the pile.
Their fortunes have declined as coal has fallen from providing more than half of the nation’s electricity in 2000 to about one-third last year. Thousands of workers have lost their jobs and moved on — leaving idled mines, abandoned homes and shuttered stores downtown.
Now, though, new businesses are emerging. They are as varied as the layers of rock that surround a coal seam, but in a twist, a considerable number involve renewable energy. And past jobs in fossil fuels are proving to make for good training.
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Under Trump, Coal Mining Gets New Life on U.S. Lands AUG. 6, 2017
Coal Country’s Power Plants Are Turning Away From Coal MAY 26, 2017
Wind Project in Wyoming Envisions Coal Miners as Trainees MAY 21, 2017
Coal Jobs Prove Lucrative, but Not for Those in the Mines MAY 2, 2017
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In Wyoming, home to the nation’s most productive coal region by far, the American subsidiary of a Chinese maker of wind turbines is putting together a training program for technicians in anticipation of a large power plant it expects to supply. And in West Virginia, a nonprofit outfit called Solar Holler — “Mine the Sun,” reads the tagline on its website — is working with another group, Coalfield Development, to train solar panel installers and seed an entire industry.
Taken together, along with programs aimed at teaching computer coding or beekeeping, they show ways to ease the transition from fossil fuels to a more diverse energy mix — as well as the challenges.
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Installing a solar panel on the roof of a house in Lewisburg, W.Va. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
‘Absolutely No Catch’
GILLETTE, Wyo. — John Davila, 61, worked for 20 years at Arch Coal’s Black Thunder Mine in Eastern Wyoming, a battered titan from an industry whose importance to the region is easy to see — whether in the sign in the visitors’ center window proclaiming, “Wyoming Coal: Proud to Provide America’s Energy,” or in the brimming train cars that rumble out of the Eagle Butte mine on the outskirts of town.
But in April last year, at a regular crew meeting in the break room, he was among those whose envelope held a termination notice rather than a work assignment. “They called it a ‘work force reduction,’” said Mr. Davila, whose straight, dark ponytail hangs down his back. “Nice way to put it, but it still means you’re out of a job.”
So a summertime Thursday morning found him, along with a couple of dozen other men and women, in a nondescript lecture room at a community college, learning how a different source of energy, wind, might make them proud, too.
The seminar was the last of three that week organized by Goldwind Americas, which is ready to provide as many as 850 giant wind turbines for a power plant planned in the state. The company was looking for candidates, particularly unemployed coal miners like Mr. Davila, to become technicians to maintain and operate the turbines.
Watching a video at a Goldwind America seminar in Gillette, Wyo. The company recruits potential technicians to maintain and operate turbines at a power plant planned in the state. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
The program, which is to teach the basics of wind farm operation, maintenance and safety over two weeks in October, would cost the participants nothing but their time, organizers said. Those who wanted to test their potential would have a chance to climb a 250-foot tower that Saturday at a farm Goldwind owns in Montana. And if they completed the full program, they would have certifications that could open the door with any employer they chose.
“There’s absolutely no catch – you don’t like me, you don’t like Goldwind, that’s O.K.,” David Halligan, the company’s chief executive, told an even larger crowd in Casper the day before. “There’s going to be opportunity across the country.”
It is a message of hope that has been in short supply, especially after the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in the region and the bankruptcies last year of three major producers. But while coal’s prospects have been dying down, wind development is poised to explode in the state, which has some of the world’s strongest and most consistent winds. And while coal mining jobs have fallen to historic lows nationally in recent years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that wind-energy technician will be the fastest-growing occupation, more than doubling over the next seven years.
Though most of the coal jobs lost last year have since returned as companies have emerged from bankruptcy, the insecurity surrounding the industry remains. “It’s been a little scary when you’ve got people all around you getting laid off,” Brandon Sims, 37, an Air Force veteran who works for an explosives company that serves the mines, said outside the lecture room. “You never really know when your day to get the pink slip is.”
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Corey Adkins, 32, in the greenhouse at Coalfield Development’s West Edge Factory in Huntington, W.Va. The greenhouse is part of an agriculture program that is to include a solar-powered fish farm. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Coal mining was already dead in Crum, a town of less than 200 just this side of the Kentucky border, by the time Ethan Spaulding, 26, graduated from high school, he said. That dashed his hopes of becoming a roof bolter, helping stabilize the ceilings of mine tunnels. “You don’t even have to have a high school diploma to go to the coal industry,” he said, “and you can start making $150,000 a year.” Or perhaps you once could.
Mr. Spaulding was standing near the railroad tracks at the edge of town where trains move coal out of the region, behind a dilapidated brick building that once housed a high-end suit factory. It is becoming a hub for the family of social enterprises that Coalfield Development leads, which include rehabilitating buildings, installing solar panels, and an agriculture program that grows produce and is turning an old mine site into a solar-powered fish farm.
Wanting to stay in Crum, Mr. Spaulding went through the solar program Coalfield runs with Solar Holler, which offers its participants a two-and-a-half-year apprenticeship. He is now a crew chief at the training center, overseeing the renovation of a larger classroom inside the building. Though he is optimistic that he can eventually reach his target income in the solar industry, the installation jobs for which the trainees will ultimately qualify generally pay far less — $26 an hour, on average, nationally.
Samuel Stearns, 18, a crew member in what will be the solar training center at Coalfield Development’s West Edge Factory. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
And yet there is keen interest. For David Ward, 40, managing installations at Solar Holler helps repay the student loans he ran up pursuing a degree in counseling — a growth industry in a state reeling from opioid addiction. An electrician, he said he was “interested in the idea of making your own power and the environmental impact.”
The program is the brainchild of Brandon Dennison and Dan Conant, two West Virginians who wanted to help develop a sustainable economy in the state. Mr. Dennison, 31, started Coalfield Development in 2010; it grew out of a volunteer effort to build low-income green housing. Mr. Conant, 32, had worked on political campaigns, including Barack Obama’s first presidential contest. After becoming involved in the solar industry, he concluded that rooftop solar development, with its individual, decentralized nature, could combine the door-to-door approach of political campaigning with a technology to fight climate change.
He completed the first Solar Holler project — putting panels on the Presbyterian church in his hometown, Shepherdstown, on the Potomac River — and, quickly overwhelmed with demand for similar installations, realized the state didn’t have a work force to handle it. So he formed a partnership with Mr. Dennison’s organization to develop one. At Coalfield’s facility here, participants learn how the arrays create electricity and connect to the power system, but they also get practice installing panels on a shed behind the main building. That helps them clear one of the basic industry hurdles: becoming comfortable working on a roof.
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The view from the top of the turbine scaled by Goldwind trainees in Shawmut, Mont. The experience offered a feeling for the work at a wind farm being planned in Wyoming.
Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
A View Most Never See
SHAWMUT, Mont. — If a big worry for would-be solar installers is staying balanced while ferrying heavy glass-sheathed panels around a roof, for potential wind energy technicians it is whether they can climb more than 200 feet in broiling heat or icy cold and emerge into the gusts to fix machinery. Still, the Goldwind technicians say working so high up is one of the job’s best features.
“You get a view that most people will never see,” as Lukas Nelson, 27, a site manager in Ohio, put it in one of the company’s promotional videos. Only a few towers have elevators, and at Goldwind’s power plant here, the access is by a series of 90-degree aluminum ladders and steel mesh platforms, straight to the top.
It was Saturday morning after the three seminars, and Goldwind safety managers had delivered a brief lecture in a trailer that served as the farm office, warning of perils like rattlesnakes in the tall grasses outside and electrocution from throwing switches in the towers.
The organizers separated the crowd of about 20 into two groups. One would take a tour of the wind farm and substation while the other climbed towers whose blades sat idle. After lunch, they would switch.
In front of the trailer, Chancey Coffelt, 33, Goldwind’s regional safety manager, was showing the climbing group how to put on harnesses — a network of heavy metal clips and rings attached to straps that thread over the shoulders, across the chest and around each thigh. They would latch onto a rope pulley system as they climbed each of four ladders and then hook into a bracket as they reached each platform before freeing themselves from the pulley.
Members of a training group putting on harnesses before climbing a wind tower in Shawmut, Mont. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
Mr. Davila, the 20-year mine veteran, was standing with members of the second group, chatting about Wyoming’s wobbly energy economy and how wind might — and might not — steady it. “A lot of coal miners don’t like wind or solar, but you need them all,” Mr. Davila said. “It’s like a puzzle you have to solve: just think about how many things we plug in.”
Still, many of the men expressed concern over what the jobs would pay, saying the salaries paled in comparison to what they could earn on an oil rig, for instance.
“It’s so easy to get a six-figure job in the oil industry,” Jesse Morgan, a baby-faced 31-year-old city councilman and back-office worker at a drilling services company, had said over beers at a bar in Casper where he was asked to show ID. “You get addicted to that money.”
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But it could be worth taking a pay cut to get out from under the stress of constantly planning for the next layoff, and being able to return home at night rather than working 30- to 40-day stints offshore. The oil field never stops, Mr. Morgan said of his time on the rigs. “It’s 24/7 — you miss birthdays, every holiday.”
As with the other men, Mr. Morgan’s work experience made him an attractive candidate for Goldwind. Accustomed to the industrial behemoths of fossil fuel production, he is familiar with the environment, equipment and procedures of working safely while surrounded by danger — like remembering to fasten the chin strap on a hard hat so it won’t slip off and injure a colleague laboring hundreds of feet below.
Chelsae Clemons, 26, a technician at a Goldwind plant in Findlay, Ohio, said the emphasis on safety and training was part of the program’s value. Among the few staff members at the seminars with a bachelor’s degree, she had worked in a lab at a hospital and had little relevant experience when she decided to pursue a career in renewable energy. In Gillette, she told the crowd, “They’re giving certifications I had to pay for.”
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Sean Phelps in beekeeping gear at Camp Lightfoot in Hinton, W.Va. A nonprofit group is converting the former summer camp to honey production to help displaced coal workers. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
‘This Is Bee Paradise’
HINTON, W.Va. — “Solar’s not going to be everything, and one of the big challenges for the state is how do we diversify and get lots of cool stuff going,” Mr. Conant, the Solar Holler founder, was saying as he drove from a solar installation at a hilltop farmhouse toward a 1940s summer camp that the local coal company provided for the children of its employees until 1984. “When you’ve been a one-industry town for a really long time, that’s an issue. The last thing we would want to do is pin our hopes on doing that again, just with some other technology.”
After winding down a road canopied by emerald-green trees, he passed the opening of the Great Bend Tunnel, during whose construction in the 1870s, as one legend tells it, the African-American folk hero John Henry beat a steam drill in opening a hole in the rock, only to die from his efforts. Minutes later, Mr. Conant came to Camp Lightfoot, which a nonprofit organization, Appalachian Headwaters, is turning into an apiary with an eye toward helping displaced coal workers and military veterans get into the honey business. Early next year, Mr. Conant plans to install solar panels on an old gymnasium, which now holds racks of wood frames for the hives.
Deborah Delaney, an assistant professor of entomology and wildlife ecology who oversees the apiary and bee program at the University of Delaware, said the area was well suited for a honey enterprise. It is largely forest, unsullied by the pesticides that threaten the insects in industrial farm areas, and it has plant species like black locust and sourwood whose honey can fetch a high price.
“This is bee paradise,” she said, sitting on the porch of the cafeteria building where a Patriot Coal banner hung askew on one wall. For now, Ms. Delaney and the program’s staff are getting the colony established on a hillside in 86 hives that buzz away behind electrified wire fencing to protect them from bears. Next spring, they plan to distribute about 150 hives to 35 beekeepers either free or through a low- or no-interest loan. Come harvest time, the beekeepers would bring their honey-laden frames to the camp for extraction and processing; organizers would pay them for their yield and then sell the honey to support the program.
An old cabin at Camp Lightfoot. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
“For some people it might be a side hustle, but for other people it could really turn into, over time, a true income that could sustain a family,” said Kate Asquith, program director at Appalachian Headwaters.
Economists say this kind of diversification is important, especially in a region where coal is unlikely to make a major comeback, even if Trump administration policies are able to foster a revival elsewhere. Demand is strongest for the low-sulfur coal from the Powder River Basin straddling Wyoming and Montana, rather than what Appalachia produces. The new-energy industries cannot replicate what coal once did, economists say. Long-term jobs at the Wyoming wind farm would number in the hundreds at best, while the solar program thus far trains only 10 workers each year.
Even a coal boom wouldn’t create jobs the way it used to: like the steam drill that ultimately took John Henry’s place, new equipment and technologies have replaced workers in heavy industries. Production of coal, for instance, increased over all from the 1920s until 2010, while the number of jobs dropped to 110,000 from 870,000.
So interest in the bees has been high here. “Thought it was weird at first — bugs in a box in the backyard,” said Sean Phelps, 27, who left a secure job as a school janitor to work with the bee program. Exposure to his father-in-law’s hives changed his perspective. Now he sees them as a way to help the area, as well as fun. “This is what I want to do,” he said. “Whenever you’re out in them, it reduces a lot of stress.”
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John Davila, who worked in the Wyoming mines for 20 years, on the bus to a Montana training center where he was set to scale a wind tower for the first time. Credit George Etheredge for The New York Times
Interrupted by a Storm
SHAWMUT, Mont. — It was after lunch, and Mr. Davila and Mr. Morgan were at the base of one of the wind towers, wearing heavy harnesses and waiting for the first group to finish so they could start the climb. Suddenly, Jason Willbanks, 39, who lost a job as an electrician with a coal company and now drives crews to and from their shifts on coal trains, emerged from within. Walking heavily into the blazing sunlight, he clattered onto the metal platform and stairs. Asked how he was, he shot back: “Sweating like a fat guy at an all-day dance.”
As he pulled off the harness, dropped to his knees in a patch of shade on the grass and rolled onto his back, Mr. Davila offered him a bottle of water from a cooler. “You’ve earned it,” he said.
Not long after, word came from the Goldwind crew: A thunderstorm was heading toward the farm, so the second group could not climb.
“I feel like I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go,” Mr. Davila said, disappointed, gesturing toward the harness. “ I wanted to see if I could get up.”
“You’ve just witnessed what it’s like to be a wind-turbine technician,” Mr. Coffelt, the safety manager, said, cocking an ear over one shoulder and suggesting that the group move away from the rattlesnake he had heard. “Imagine if you’re one or two stacks up when you get that alert: right back down we come.” After weighing options, the Goldwind organizers called it a day, offering repeated apologies and promises to get the men back to the site which, over the following months, they did.
Mr. Morgan, who posted a beaming selfie from atop the turbine on Facebook, did not apply for the training program. But Mr. Davila did, and was accepted.
He is torn over whether to enroll, he said. He is desperate for the work but hesitant to leave his wife and home in Gillette, where he has lived since he was 6, for one of the jobs immediately available outside the state. Still, he added with a chuckle, it might be good to move: “Maybe there’s more to the world than Gillette.”
A version of this article appears in print on October 1, 2017, on Page BU1 of the New York edition with the headline: Leaving a Life in the Coal Mine Behind. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe
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An ambitious dinner series in Philadelphia spent a year trying to build bridges with food.
BY JOY MANNING | Food Justice, Local Eats
Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market (RTM) has been a food destination for a cross-section of people since it opened in 1892. As one of the city’s best spots for groceries, as well as prepared food such as roast pork sandwiches and whoopie pies, the 39,000-square-foot public food market in Center City brings together a kaleidoscopic array of ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities on a daily basis.
Its racial and socioeconomic diversity is especially remarkable in this era of travel bans, white nationalism, and the looming end of DACA. It’s also notable in Philadelphia, a sharply segregated city where 22 percent of people are food insecure, and which has a long history of racial and ethnic conflict.
Late last month, RTM was host to another kind of gathering, a massive block party that brought more than 150 people out to celebrate the culmination of the “Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers” program, which held six dinners over the last 12 months. The goal was to convene intimate gatherings to foster community and understanding among communities that don’t always cross paths: Jews and Muslims, Chinese-Americans and Mexican-Americans, and African-Americans and Korean-Americans.
Those meals were the result of a partnership between RTM, the city of Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Knight Foundation, and brought together about 40 attendees each, a group that comprised two or more different ethnic communities.
At last month’s block party, two tables, each stretching almost a full city block long, fluttered with white plastic tablecloths as guests grabbed folding chairs. All along the sidewalk, steam trays were stocked with meats, vegetables, and breads representing dozens of national cuisines from around the world.
Looking back on the Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers dinner he cooked at earlier this year, Benjamin Miller, a chef-owner at El Compadre restaurant and an outspoken advocate for undocumented workers’ rights, recalled awkward but meaningful conversations. Around that table were communities of Mexican and Chinese heritage as well as representatives from the Italian-American community.
Benjamin Miller and Cristina Martinez, co-owners of South Philly Barbacoa.
“There were tacos, stromboli, and dumplings—I like sharing culture like that,” said Miller. When asked to cook with his wife Cristina Martinez once again at the final block party, he didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Oasis of Diversity
The Reading Terminal Market has long stood out as an example of peaceful urban commingling—so much so that Yale professor Elijah Anderson included the market in his 2011 book about race and civility, The Cosmopolitan Canopy. Anderson believes that as a culture we can learn from “islands of civility,” as he calls them, places where segregation falls away and tolerance prevails.
When RTM manager Anuj Gupta read about his own market in the book, he saw it—and the opportunities for civic engagement RTM might present—through Anderson’s sociological lens. In the spring of 2016, inspired by what he’d read, Gupta wrote a grant proposal for Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers, in hopes of using this island of civility as a setting to bring very different groups of Philadelphians together around the dinner table to have hard conversations over shared meals.
Anderson was a guest of honor at the final event last week. “I was hoping something like this would start [as a result of my book], and I’m happy to see it has happened here,” said Anderson.
Gupta imagined dinners that would help people of very different cultures and backgrounds, longtime residents and recent immigrants, better understand each other. He thought food could build cohesion. In developing the project, Gupta partnered with the University of Pennsylvania’s Project for Civic Engagement, which would send a trainer facilitator to each meal to lead discussion. The proposed project was awarded a Knight Cities Challenge Grant.
“I couldn’t imagine how much the world would change between the time I wrote the grant proposal and when we held our first dinner,” said Gupta. One memorable meal took place mere days after Trump announced his first travel ban. The guest list included residents of Philly’s working-class Northeast section, both old-timers and newly arrived Syrian refugees. “It was very emotionally charged,” recalled Gupta.
Bringing Neighbors Together
Grant funding is all well and good, but to make an ambitious dinner series like this happen—to actually bring people to the table—you need allies inside the neighborhoods you want to reach. The dinner that brought Syrian refugees together with longtime residents of Northeast Philly might not have taken place without the help of Pam Baranackie, who has lived in Northeast Philadelphia since the 1980s. A member of her local neighborhood association, Baranackie called on her robust network of contacts to help make the dinner a success.
The Northeast skews more Republican than other parts of the city, with large sections of the neighborhood voting for Trump in 2016. And yet for more than 100 years it has been a place where new immigrants move. Several generations back, it was home to Irish immigrants. In the 90s, there was a wave of Eastern European and Russian people coming to the area. More recently, Syrian refugees have made this part of Philadelphia home.
Not everyone in the Northeast was enthusiastic about the arrival of the new residents, but the Breaking Bread attendees welcomed the Syrians warmly. “I reached out to people who I knew would be open to the dinner,” said Baranackie. That included people who joined the civic group wanting to bring neighbors together as well as other groups of immigrants who had been in the neighborhood for many years. When you’ve lived in a place for three decades, you know who most values harmony in the neighborhood and who isn’t interested in making new friends.
Lasting relationships were born over that meal. Last fall, Baranackie and a friend attended a celebration of Eid al-Adha at the home of one of her new Syrian neighbors. “She made the best stuffed grape leaves I ever had! I thought they were only a Greek thing,” said Baranackie. Now she plans to maintain those ties by leading flower arranging workshops, a hobby of hers, for the group.
Certainly there are bigger issues than the menu at hand, but predictably the food itself proved the strongest social glue. Most of the Syrians speak little English. At the final dinner, Amiana, a 41-year-old woman who arrived here eight months ago, was limited was limited to sharing her appreciation of the falafel and chicken cutlet.
Breaking Bread participants representing Southwest Philadelphia—Cambodian-Americans, many from families that came to the U.S. as refugees, and African-Americans—have no such language barriers. But through their own dinners earlier this year, they overcame other kinds of obstacles to understanding.
“I think for the first time certain people understood that [Cambodians] are not Chinese,” says Naroen Chhin, who is of Cambodian descent. “Cambodians are in the school-to-prison pipeline, too.” Chhin thinks that other people, particular other people who are also minorities, tend to lump all Asians together, an attitude that can minimize the struggles they have in common.
A Cambodian dance troupe, whose translates to Beautiful Girl Line Dance, performed at the event.
Mark Harrell, an African-American community organizer who attended both the Southwest Philly Breaking Bread dinner in June and the final dinner last week, said he hoped the new relationships made through the dinners would encourage the groups to work together to change the systemic issues that affect them both. “We talked about how different oppressed communities share experiences. There’s no need to look at each other as different,” he says.
As dusk fell over Filbert Street and guests snaked around the buffet line for second helpings, there was no doubt that the guests were enjoying the “island of civility.” Men in suits and ties, women in headscarves, kids in hoodies, and ladies in false eyelashes all feasted on chicken cutlets, tacos, dumplings, falafel, and cans of orange Crush.
A marching band consisting of Mummers—a group that stirs up controversy with racist and sexist displays during their annual New Year’s Day parade—also performed at the Breaking Bread event.
With the Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers series now over, RTM manager Gupta says he’d like to continue the work he’s started but can’t imagine next steps—yet. He hears that participants are organizing get-togethers on their own, usually centered on food, such as potluck suppers.
It may be naïve to think that a few moving stories, shared holiday celebrations, or swapped recipes will change the world. But for those who have made new and unlikely friends and allies at the Breaking Bread dinners, it may be a good start. “We want to keep this momentum going,” says Gupta.
All photos © Clay Williams.
Large investment groups including BlackRock and Vanguard have stepped up pressure on US energy companies to address the risks associated with climate change, despite the Trump administration’s lack of action to address the threat.
An analysis of shareholder votes at this year’s annual meetings showed investors have taken a more active role in pushing for information on climate risks, often voting for improved disclosure against company board recommendations.
In votes at seven of the largest US energy companies this year, the 30 largest investors switched their votes to support disclosure on climate risk a total of 38 times, having opposed similar resolutions in 2016, according to ShareAction, a campaign group.
The data come from regulatory filings compiled by Proxy Insight, an information service.
The increasingly assertive position taken by large investors had its most significant impacts at ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum, two of the largest US oil groups. There was majority support for proposals calling on the companies to publish regular reports on the possible impact on their businesses of policies to address the threat of climate change. In both cases, BlackRock and Vanguard, the world’s two largest fund managers, voted to support the proposals.
Paul Lee, head of corporate governance at Aberdeen Standard Investments, the largest active manager in the UK, said the group backed motions calling for climate-related disclosure because it wanted to “encourage greater ownership of the risks of climate change at board level”.
As an index investor, you can hold all the companies in your portfolio to the same standard. You don’t need regulation
RAKHI KUMAR, STATE STREET GLOBAL ADVISORS
State Street Global Advisors has been one of the most active large fund managers in pushing boards to take account of climate change. Rakhi Kumar, its head of environmental, social and governance investments, said that with holdings in about 10,000 companies worldwide, the group could have a very broad influence.
“As an index investor, you can hold all the companies in your portfolio to the same standard. You don’t need regulation,” she said.
Many investors have been stepping up their engagement with companies over climate change, generally seeking more transparency on the potential risks to earnings. BlackRock, for example, identified climate risk disclosure as one of its five investment stewardship priorities for 2017-18.
However, there have been some wide variations in fund managers’ votes on climate-related issues. In “key climate votes” this year as assessed by the 50/50 Climate Project, another group that works with investors on the issue, BlackRock voted for relevant proposals 9 per cent of the time and Vanguard 15 per cent, compared to 61 per cent for State Street.
BlackRock said its approach was to “engage primarily through direct dialogue but [we] will exercise our right to vote against management recommendations where we do not see sufficient progress.”
Ms Kumar at State Street said the group used both “vote and voice” to persuade boards to assess climate risk.
Edward Kamonjoh, executive director of the 50/50 Climate Project, said he expected investors to seek better explanations from fund managers when they decide not to support climate-related resolutions.
“Large fund managers with poor voting records on climate risk can expect public challenges on the dichotomy between their engagement priorities and voting practices,” he said.
People love living near the coast. Only two of the world's top 10 biggest cities — Mexico City and Sáo Paulo — are not coastal. The rest — Tokyo, Mumbai, New York, Shanghai, Lagos, Los Angeles, Calcutta and Buenos Aires — are. Around half of the world's 7.5 billion people live within 60 miles of a coastline, with about 10 percent of the population living in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters (32 feet) above sea level.
Coastal migration has been steadily trending upward. In the U.S. alone, coastal county populations increased by 39 percent between 1970 to 2010. As the population skyrockets — from 7.5 billion today to 9.8 billion by 2050, and 11.2 billion by 2100, according to a recent United Nations report — the question for sustainability and development experts is, will the world's coasts bear the burden of all this humanity? But with the rise of both sea levels and extreme weather, perhaps a better question is, will all this humanity bear the burden of living along the world's coasts?
Growing appeal: Landlocked life
As the "500-year" hurricanes Harvey and Irma (and 2011's Irene) powerfully and tragically demonstrated, living near a coastline is an increasingly dangerous proposition. But for some coastal regions, rising seas and hurricanes aren't the only cause for alarm: the coastal lands in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina are sinking by up to 3mm a year, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of Florida. Could these multiple factors reverse humans' seaward migration?
Some research suggests that may be the case. A recent University of Georgia study found that rising sea levels could drive U.S. coastal residents far inland, even to landlocked states like Arizona and Wyoming, which could see significant population surges from coastal migration by 2100. Many of these places are not equipped to deal with sudden population increases. That means sea level rise isn't just a problem for coastal regions.
"We typically think about sea-level rise as being a coastal challenge or a coastal issue," said Mathew Hauer, author of the study and head of the Applied Demography program at the University of Georgia. "But if people have to move, they go somewhere."
"We're going to have more people on less land and sooner than we think," said Charles Geisler, professor emeritus of development sociology at Cornell University. “The future rise in global mean sea level probably won't be gradual. Yet few policy makers are taking stock of the significant barriers to entry that coastal climate refugees, like other refugees, will encounter when they migrate to higher ground."
Geisler is the lead author of a study published in the July issue of the journal Land Use Policy examining responses to climate change by land use planners in Florida and China. He and the study's co-author, Ben Currens, an earth and environmental scientist from the University of Kentucky, make the case for "proactive adaptation strategies extending landward from on global coastlines." By 2060, about 1.4 billion people could be climate change refugees, according to Geisler's study. That number could reach 2 billion by 2100.
Not just for the birds: Higher ground
Writing in the Washington Post, Elizabeth Rush, author of "Rising: The Unsettling of the American Shore," suggests that coastal residents should take a lesson from the roseate spoonbill. For most of the past century, this striking pink shorebird has made a habitat in the Florida Keys. But for the past decade, as rising wetland levels have made finding food more difficult, the spoonbills have been steadily abandoning their historic nesting grounds for higher ground on the mainland. She writes:
Adding several centimeters of water into the wetlands where spoonbills traditionally bred (as has occurred over the past 10 years in the Florida Bay, thanks to wetter winters and higher tides) significantly changed the landscape, eliminating the habitats where these gangly waders had long found dinner. When the spoonbills realized it was no longer possible to live on the Florida Keys, they left.
But humans can't move to higher ground and build new homes as easily as the spoonbill. Rush contends that "legal and regulatory conditions don’t make moving away from increasingly dangerous coastal areas easy." She argues that, to avoid loss of life and economic value, governments at local, state and federal levels, as part of climate adaption, must "start financing and encouraging relocation."
In New York, some residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy took matters into their own hands, forming grassroots "buyout committees" to raise awareness about the perils of coastal life, even knocking on doors to gauge residents' interest in relocating. Eventually, the relocation activists got the attention and support of Governor Andrew Cuomo: In 2013, he released funds from the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to buy out homes across three Sandy-impacted areas in Staten Island.
"[T]hose homes would be knocked down, giving the wetlands a chance to return so they might provide a buffer against storms to come," Rush writes, adding that since Sandy, around 500 residents have applied for government buyouts—now "entire neighborhoods are being demolished along the island’s shore."
Risky business: Flood insurance
One "exit barrier" has to do with a 49-year-old program called the National Flood Insurance Program. Under the current law, homeowners are required to rebuild on their land—even after suffering through multiple floods. "Through the National Flood Insurance Program, we know there are about 30,000 properties that flood repeatedly," said Rob Moore, senior policy analyst for the NRDC's water program. "On average, these properties have flooded about five times." Only around one percent of these properties carry flood insurance, reports NPR, but have been responsible for about 25 percent of the paid claims.
Jennifer Bayles, a homeowner in the Houston metro area who was interviewed last week on NPR, paid $83,000 for her house in 1992. After the first flood in 2009, insurance paid her $200,000, then an additional $200,000 following the next flood. Now, post-Harvey, she expects to receive around $300,000.
When a program pays out billions of dollars for just a handful of repeat customers, some argue that rebuilding simply isn't cost-efficient. Rush points to a recent Natural Resources Defense Council study that found, "in most cases, it is less expensive to buy out these homes than it is to cover the cost of repairing and rebuilding after ever-more-common floods."
Another problem is a lack of funding. The National Flood Insurance Program is nearly $25 billion in debt due to this season's massive hurricanes. In a recent press briefing, Roy E. Wright, the deputy FEMA administrator in charge of the program, said his agency estimates it will pay Texas policyholders some $11 billion in flood claims for Harvey alone. But NFIP has only $1.08 billion of cash to pay claims. That amount, reported Bradley Keoun of TheStreet.com last week, is "down by a third in less than three weeks—and a $5.8 billion credit limit from the U.S. Treasury Department."
Congress is set to vote soon on whether to reauthorize the flood program. "Even though we reauthorized it for three months, and extended it, it's gonna run out of money probably in October,” Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) told Rollcall earlier this month. MacArthur, who sits on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans, said Congress will have to authorize additional financial support to the program, noting that extra funds "must come with reform."
What kind of reform remains to be seen. Rush proposes lawmakers eliminate the requirement that claim filers must rebuild near the line of devastation:
[T]he program could offer discounted flood insurance to homeowners in the highest-risk areas, with a caveat: In return for lower premiums, those homeowners would agree to accept buyouts if their properties were damaged during a flood. This would help keep insurance rates affordable for low- and middle-income homeowners (a daunting task given that the program is both federally subsidized and tens of billions of dollars in debt) while encouraging folks to move out of harm’s way.
Risky proposition: Climate denial
House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a longtime critic of NFIP, argues that the program amounts to a federal subsidy that spurs human development in flood zones. "After Harvey and Irma," he told Rollcall, "it would be insane for the federal government to simply rebuild repetitive loss homes in the same fashion, in the same place."
In an interview Thursday on CNBC, he said:
If all we do is force federal taxpayers to build the same homes in the same fashion, in the same location and expect a different result, we all know that's the classic definition of insanity.... Maybe we pay for your home once, maybe even pay for it twice, but at some point the taxpayer's got to quit paying and you've got to move.
"The NFIP in its current form is unsustainable and perverse," Hensarling said, in a written statement.
Perhaps. But what's also unsustainable and perverse is denying the role of climate change, not only in storm activity, but in the rising sea levels that make flooding worse: Hensarling's poor climate voting record garnered him a spot on Vice Motherboard's "Texas Climate Change Deniers" list. As the Sun Herald, a Mississippi Gulf Coast newspaper, recently put it, "Climate change denial and our love of the beach could sink the National Flood Insurance program."
Predictably, Donald Trump dismissed the notion that climate change played a role in the frequency and intensity of superstorms like Harvey and Irma. When asked about climate change by reporters aboard Air Force One after touring the devastation of Florida's west coast, Trump insisted:
If you go back into the 1930s and the 1940s, and you take a look, we've had storms over the years that have been bigger than this....So we did have two horrific storms, epic storms, but if you go back into the '30s and '40s, and you go back into the teens, you'll see storms that were very similar and even bigger, OK?
But for coastal residents impacted by these massive storms—and for the vast majority of scientists—it's not OK. Penn State atmospheric scientist Michael Mann connects the dots between climate change and the impact of Hurricane Harvey:
There are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding. Sea level rise attributable to climate change…is more than half a foot over the past few decades. That means that the storm surge was a half foot higher than it would have been just decades ago, meaning far more flooding and destruction.
Endangered: Ocean economies
There's also the economic impact of losing shorelines. The U.N. estimates that the so-called ocean economy, which includes employment, marine-based ecosystem services and cultural services, is between $3 to $6 trillion per year.
Coastal areas within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of the ocean account for more than 60 percent of the world's total gross national production. For the economies of developing nations, these regions are especially crucial. A big part of that coastal production is food. As the sea gobbles up fertile seaside land and river deltas, feeding the rapidly escalating human population is going to get that much more difficult.
The future of tourism is also a major concern, particularly small island states, where tourism generally accounts for more than a quarter of GDP. For some islands, that amount may soon have to be wiped off the balance sheet. Just last year, five islands in the Solomon Island archipelago disappeared to the rising sea.
But economic losses due to extreme weather and climate change are also a major issue for developed nations; according to preliminary estimates, Hurricane Harvey caused up to $200 billion in damage.
Retreat or rebuild?
People may enjoy the coasts, beaches, surf and sand. But by emitting greenhouse gases at an unsustainable rate, we're losing these cherished ecosystems to the rising seas and superstorms. Perhaps we should give the coasts back to nature. By letting key coastal ecosystems return to their natural states, mangrove forests and other vegetated marine and intertidal habitats can act as bulwarks against the rising seas and hurricanes.
Like forests, these coastal areas are powerful carbon sinks, safely storing around a quarter of the additional carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Crucially, they also help protect communities and wildlife near shores from floods and storm surges. As people move inland, natural ecosystems could reclaim shorelines. "Retreat," Rush declares, "is slowly gaining traction as a climate change adaptation strategy."
Moving people out of flood zones — and rewilding coastlines and bringing wetlands back — could be an area where policymakers and conservationists could find common ground. It also means rethinking the way cities are designed; when it comes to urban planning, city planners have generally not taken natural systems into account.
Writing on AlterNet, Mary Mazzoni looked at how the mismanagement of Houston's natural ecosystem increased the amount of flooding from Hurricane Harvey, pointing out that by paving over wetlands, which are able to absorb a great amount of flood water, the city left itself vulnerable to disaster.
She notes that the "relative lack of regulatory hurdles — Houston is the largest U.S. city without zoning laws — allowed development to continue more or less unchecked . . . the wetlands loss documented in [a] Texas A&M; study is equivalent to nearly 4 billion gallons in lost stormwater detention, worth an estimated $600 million."
"'Conquering' nature has long been the western way," writes Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki. "Our hubris, and often our religious ideologies, have led us to believe we are above nature and have a right to subdue and control it. We let our technical abilities get ahead of our wisdom. We're learning now that working with nature — understanding that we are part of i t— is more cost-effective and efficient in the long run."
In our new normal, one way to work with nature might be to let her have her coastlines back.
One recent day, I found myself up near Seeley Lake, Montana, an empty vacation community. The air was, officially speaking, “hazardous,” or, as an air quality specialist memorably put it, “a hideous brown spiral of misery and despair.” It was the tail end of a long fire season. More than 1 million acres had burned, and in some parts of the state, it was so hot and dry after two months without rain that vegetation on rocks was catching fire. In Seeley Lake, more than 500 homes had been evacuated due to the 160,000-acre Rice Ridge Fire. “Stop smoking,” a cook in a Seeley Lake diner joked to her lone customer, as though such a thing were possible. On another day, at the nearby sprawling fire camp, I ran into a woman named Mary who had been evacuated. She was looking for a target for her frustrations and focused it on too-thick forests. “We haven’t been able to log,” she said. She blamed “people who don’t live here who have frivolous lawsuits.” And: “The owl or slug or whatever.”
The source of this animus was no secret. Since late August, Montana Rep. Greg Gianforte and Senator Steve Daines have been beating the drum advocating for increased logging on federally managed public lands. “Extreme environmentalists,” Gianforte has said, are to blame for bringing lawsuits that prevent logging on Forest Service land in order to protect habitat for endangered species. Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman is pushing a bill that would limit environmental groups’ ability to seek injunctions and exclude Forest Service land under 10,000 acres from environmental assessments under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), opening up a vast amount of land to industry.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose seat Gianforte filled, has written a memo advocating for “aggressive and scientific fuels reduction management”—longhand for getting the cut out. This week, at a meeting with an oil and gas group, Zinke reportedly said that President Donald Trump wants expedited permits for drilling and logging as of “yesterday.”
This strategy is unsurprising—politicians tend to think in electoral rather than ecological cycles. But they don’t seem to be aware that cutting won’t solve the problem. Much of the area consumed by the Rice Ridge Fire had previously been logged. “It’s not really a complicated issue,” says Mark Finney, a 55-year-old research ecologist at the University of Montana’s renowned Fire Lab, which is run by the Forest Service. “The solution to the fire question is more fire. It’s more fire of a different kind.”
Finney holds the Forest Service’s consensus view that a century of fire suppression has created dense low-elevation forests primed to burn. He says foresters can log sustainably there—as long as they light prescribed burns after the cutting’s done. “Preventative medicine,” Finney says, “is more effective than emergency response.”
Some scientists see the agency’s push for mitigation as problematic. Chad Hanson, an ecologist and director of the California-based John Muir Project, says the Forest Service’s scientists “are under a lot of pressure to not say things that contradict the Forest Service’s management program.” He holds that we should simply create defensible space around communities—essentially, massive fire breaks clear of fuel—but otherwise keep logging to a minimum and let large wildfires burn.
But Hanson doesn’t reside in Montana, where a lot of people live off the fire-industrial complex. Many of my friends, acquaintances, and sources in Missoula work for companies that receive government contracts: to survey hillsides, to slash and log the understory, to replant land with seedlings. That’s before you consider the hotshots who arrived this summer from as far away as Alaska and Tennessee for a healthy dose of risk coupled with high pay. (Wildland firefighters get time-and-a-half for overtime, plus an extra 25 percent boost in hazard pay.) The 28,000-acre Liberty Fire, near Arlee, Montana, cost the federal and state government $20 million; the Lolo Peak Fire (53,900 acres) cost $48 million; the Rice Ridge Fire, by Seeley Lake, $47 million. For a state with dearly held notions of rugged individualism, Montana feeds pretty vigorously from the government’s trough.
The fire science community, like any such group, contains a degree of internecine dispute. But both Hanson and Finney agree on the fundamental fact that more acreage needs to burn. During our meeting, Finney tells me we need “about five times” more acreage to burn per year than we see on average. Politicians were calling the season catastrophic, as were many publications, this one included; Finney, like most of his colleagues, wanted to see more fire. “There’s a lot of good burning going on right now,” he says. The trick will be adding actual fire science into the politicized rhetoric.
Outside Finney’s office, white government pickups and the camo Humvees of the National Guard zoomed around. Western Montana had the feeling of mild invasion that marks most disaster zones, wherein a faraway force is summoned to save the locals. Some of the money for the cavalry came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency—and a new bill in Congress would make those funds even more readily available—but most of it came from the Forest Service. The agency has spent more than $2 billion suppressing wildfire this summer, the most expensive fire season in history. Doing so, the Forest Service has engaged in a practice called fire borrowing, meaning the agency takes from funds that would be otherwise used for, say, mitigation projects like thinning and prescribed burns. “The harder we fight,” Finney says, “the worse it gets, and the more we have to fight.”
Logging on its own won’t help that. The congressional delegation’s bluster sounds somewhat akin to a city planner complaining about traffic while pitching a bunch of new six-lane highways. It treats fire as affront—something that happens to us—rather than facing the more confounding heart of the matter: that fire is a part of our habitat, and we’ve exacerbated it by snuffing out blazes and contributing to a warmer, drier climate. In recent years, groups like the Nature Conservancy and the Wilderness Society have partnered with local communities to work toward developing cooperative efforts to thin underbrush, perform controlled burns, and create defensible space. In theory, this kind of work could create a more diversified fire-industrial complex, one in which firefighters make their money before things turn deadly. But cooperative efforts are now being drowned out by a war of words between Montana’s politicians and its more litigious environmental groups, raising the prospect of another round of timber wars—the court battles between activists and industry that fractured Montana in the 1990s. “There’s a better way than to battle it out in court,” says Jordan Reeves, of the Wilderness Society.
To hear the scientists tell it, logging itself won’t offer much benefit unless we start making better use of prescribed fire. Lacking it, we might simply be able to expect more invasions of the cavalry. Which suits some Montanans just fine. Just before it snowed last week, one wildland firefighter, who asked not to be named, told me, “We’re rounding third base and heading for home.” He smiled. “But you want to stay on third base as long as possible.” This is what they say smoke smells like in Montana: money.
Gina Luster bathed her child in lukewarm bottled water, emptied bottle by bottle into the tub, for months. It became a game for her seven-year-old daughter. Pop the top off a bottle, and pour it into the tub. It takes about 30 minutes for a child to fill a tub this way. Pop the top, pour it in; pop the top, pour it in. Maybe less if you can get gallon jugs.
Luster lives in Flint, Michigan, and here, residents believe tap water is good for one thing: to flush the toilet.
“I don’t even water my plants with it,” she said.
Flint became synonymous with lead-poisoned water after government officials, looking to save money, switched the city’s water supply from Detroit city water to water from the corrosive Flint river.
Once the city had switched, the number of children with elevated lead exposure doubled; residents reported unexplained rashes and losing hair. An unpublished study recently found fetal deaths in Flint increased by 58% during the crisis.
Suddenly, Flint was a cause célèbre. The Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders held a debate in Flint. Barack Obama visited to raise morale. Americans who could afford it started ripping out old lead pipes. Media outlets across the country started examining their own towns for lead.
Despite having endured lead-laden tap water for years, Flint pays some of the highest water rates in the US. Several residents cited bills upwards of $200 per month for tap water they refuse to touch.
But just two hours away, in the tiny town of Evart, creeks lined by wildflowers run with clear water. The town is so small, the fairground, McDonald’s, high school and church are all within a block. But in a town of only 1,503 people, there are a dozen wells pumping water from the underground aquifer. This is where the beverage giant Nestlé pumps almost 100,000 times what an average Michigan resident uses into plastic bottles that are sold all over the midwest for around $1.
To use this natural resource, Nestlé pays $200 per year.
Now, Nestlé wants more Michigan water. In a recent permit application, the company asked to pump 210m gallons per year from Evart, a 60% increase, and for no more than it pays today. In the coming months, the state is set to decide whether Nestlé can to pump even more.
The proximity of the Nestlé plant to Flint’s degraded public water supply has some Michigan residents asking: why do we get undrinkable, unaffordable tap water, when the world’s largest food and beverage company, Nestlé, bottles the state’s most precious resource for next to nothing?
‘Don’t seem right’
“It’s almost like a civics class for us Flint folks,” said Luster. “You shouldn’t be able to profit off of water – it’s free. It came out of the ground.”
Free water is not uncommon. In the US, water has traditionally been free for companies and people to use – it’s the government infrastructure that cleans and delivers people safe water that costs money. The government infrastructure is what failed in Flint.
Still, in Michigan, what people have a problem with is a company bottling the state’s water and selling it back to people who, through no fault of their own, are completely dependent on it.
Bottled water is “a necessity of life right now”, said Chuck Wolverton, a Flint resident. He won’t touch his tap water. He drives 15 miles outside of town to his brother’s house to shower every night, where he often also washes his clothes. His water bill, he said, was around $180 per month. “I don’t even give it to my dogs.”
In a state where officials denied Flint’s water was poisoned with lead; where Detroit residents choose between heat and water; where the water-borne, pneumonia-like legionnaire’s disease killed a dozen; and where gastrointestinal bugs spread among residents who lacked (or didn’t trust) water, Nestlé’s request seemed like salt on a wound.
“Don’t seem right, because they’re making profits off of it,” Wolverton said, with several fresh cases of bottled water in the back of his car.
“With the money they make, they could come and fix Flint – and I mean the water plants and our pipes,” Luster said of Nestlé. “Me and you wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”
Activists here, such as Luster, see Nestlé’s bottling plant and Flint’s tainted water and Detroit’s mass water shutoffs as connected – part of an “ecosystem” (as Luster calls it) meant to put water into private hands.
‘Sustainable water practices’
In 2017, bottled water became the most consumed bottled beverage in North America, due in part to fears of lead-tainted water and concerns about the negative health effects of sugary beverages, analysts said.
Nestlé had $92bn in sales in 2016, and $7.4bn from water alone. Nevertheless, the company pays nothing for the 150 gallons per minute it already pumps from the ground in central Michigan. The $200 per year is just an administration fee.
“We’re not saying give everyone a new car, a new home. We’re just asking for our water treatment,” Luster said. “That’s a no-brainer.”
Nestlé doesn’t bicker with the price it gets water at, but it does maintain that when it turns Evart water into brands like Nestlé Pure Life and Ice Mountain, it is being a steward of the environment.
The company has 52 bottled water brands altogether, including some of the best known in the world – Poland Spring, Perrier, San Pellegrino.
“Nestlé promotes sustainable water practices throughout its operations,” said the company’s 2016 annual report. “For Nestlé Waters, this starts at the source with engagement activities with local communities to ensure the sustainability of our shared public water resources.”
Many people in Evart would probably disagree, and they’re hardly alone. A small town in Canada was recently disappointed that it was outbid by Nestlé in a bid to fund a long-term water source for the town. And environmentalists in California are watching closely whether Nestlé can continue to pump water – for $524 – out of San Bernardino national forest on a permit that expired nearly 30 years ago.
Further, Nestlé’s annual report does not address plastic pollution: a problem piling up at one million bottles per minute according to a Guardian analysis. Some campaigners believe plastic pollution to be the most significant environmental problem behind climate change. Studies have also begun to find plastic pollution in the food chain – in fish, salt, honey, beer and tap water.
A social justice issue
Michigan’s water conflicts, with Nestlé as a new focal point, have begun to attract broad social justice campaigns.
The Rev Dr William Barber II, a powerhouse preacher sometimes compared to Dr Martin Luther King Jr for his ability to weave together left-leaning politics and Christian teachings, trained some of Michigan’s local water activists in August. Many said they were directly politicized by rolling water crises in Flint and Detroit.
“One of the reasons we’re here today,” said Barber, standing backstage in a community college in Detroit, was “this water crisis”.
Social justice groups focused on water in Michigan have become an increasingly powerful force. Protesters pushed for public hearings on Nestlé’s permit in January. Residents in Flint agitated for continued state support in February. Activists in Detroit blocked city contractors from shutting off residents’ water, and won a reprieve when a judge dismissed charges against them.
Politicians are also entering the fray. The Michigan state representative Tim Sneller and colleagues asked the Michigan department of environmental quality (MDEQ) not to approve Nestlé’s permit.
“Now, I firmly support economic development in our state, and I recognize the extent to which Nestlé Waters’ presence in Michigan has helped our economy,” Sneller said, in an opinion article in April. “However, there needs to be a balance between the economic benefit of Nestlé and the responsibility of the MDEQ to protect Michigan’s environment and natural resources.”
On Friday, activists from Flint will join activists from Evart, where Nestlé pumps water. They will be joined by groups from Detroit, where people are having their water shut off, from north of the border, where the social justice group Council of Canadians is based, and from indigenous communities around the Great Lakes. Together, they want to promote a “water summit” on “human rights and water sovereignty”.
“When it comes to water, we should be working within the government to make that as cheap as possible,” Barber said. “Privatizing that which the lord created is just wrong”.
Where Barber spoke, in Detroit, water still technically belongs to the city’s residents. But in neighborhoods where one in five homes had their water shut off last year, it is anything but affordable.
‘Water is not affordable to us’
Nicole Hill, a mother of three, has her water shut off every few months. It still costs “more than $200 a month”.
The first time her water was shut off, she said, “I get up, I make them breakfast, I take them to school, I come back to wash the dishes and no water comes out the faucet.”
That was in 2014, when 33,000 homes in Detroit had their water shut off. She was one of thousands who were part of a city “blitz” that shut off water to delinquent accounts. Last year, 27,000 homes in Detroit had their water shut off.
Hill went so far as to file a class action lawsuit to try to secure her community’s right to affordable water. She lost in a lower court and appealed. Last year, a panel of three federal judges ruled against her, writing: “A right of this nature is not rooted in our nation’s traditions.”
Valerie Jean, a mother of five, bonded with her neighbors after her entire block was cut off from water when multiple residents fell behind on their bills. Still struggling, Jean perpetually seems to have a blue stripe in front of her home, a kind of scarlet letter painted on front yards by city workers to highlight a home’s water access point. That makes it easier to shut water off.
“When they shut off a whole community, it shows water is not affordable to us,” said Jean.
Barber spoke to a crowd of hundreds in Detroit, with 11,000 more people watching online. The rally was not just about raising spirits. It was part of the Poor People’s Campaign, a “moral revival” organized by Barber and his co-chair, the Rev Dr Liz Theoharis, to train impoverished Americans to be activists.
Barber is a tall, stout man with a teeter-totter gait. He’s got hands the size of a bear’s and builds his speeches like a fire – nurturing a spark into a cheering, song-singing, burn-the-house-down blaze.
“The prophet said, ‘Take away your prayers, take away your sacrifice – if you want to please me, let justice roll down like water!’”
Barber started with a cold crowd, but some were soon in tears, and answered calls in unison – “Forward together!” Barber yelled. “Not one step back!” the crowd shouted back.
“Not one step back!”
In April 2014, Flint switched from Detroit city water to the corrosive water in the Flint river. Luster remembers – it happened on her daughter’s birthday. She and her nine-year-old daughter (then seven) quickly became sick. By July, she had collapsed at her job as a retail manager. Even today, strange, unexplained health effects remain.
Luster, 43, has had part of her uterus removed, an unexplained abscess taken from her left breast, and a lymph node removed from her right underarm and back. She has lost a five-gallon bag’s worth of hair.
Now, she is a full-time organizer with Flint Rising, and is considering law school. And almost two years after the crisis made national headlines, Luster still does everything in her Flint home with bottled water – cooking, washing hands, and even seemingly innocuous tasks, like ironing. She filters bottled water to drink.
By this summer, the state of Michigan alone will have provided 157m bottles of water to Flint and counting. Once, a news crew counted how many 16.9-ounce bottles Luster’s household used in a day – 151. “So now you see, when I see a bottle of water, I don’t see, ‘Let me go get a drink.’”
As soon as Donald Trump won the presidential election, people in the US and around the world knew it was terrible news for the environment. Not wanting to believe that he would try to follow through on our worst fears, we held out hope.
Those hopes for a sane US federal government were misplaced. But they are replaced by a new hope – an emerging climate leadership at the state level and a continuation of economic forces that favor clean/renewable energy over dirty fossil fuels. In fact, it appears that some states are relishing the national and international leadership roles that they have undertaken. Support for sensible climate and energy policies is now a topic to run on in elections.
This change has manifested itself in American politics. One such plan stems from my home state, but it exemplifies work in other regions. I live in the state of Minnesota where we are gearing up for a gubernatorial election, which is where this plan comes from.
My state is well known as somewhat progressive, both socially and economically. The progressive policies resulted in a very strong 2007 renewable energy standard, which helped to reduce carbon pollution and create 15,000 jobs.
As an aside, it is really painful for me to have to describe sane energy policies as “progressive.” The fact that conservatives in the US have largely attacked clean energy and the science of climate change is deeply disappointing, but it is a reality nonetheless.
Consequently, it is not surprising that one of the candidates for Governor, Rebecca Otto, has outlined what may become the trend among other states. She is not yet elected, but her clean energy proposal has many people talking.
The proposal presents a two-part focus on clean energy-based economic development and climate-change mitigation. Basically, in my state (and in many other states), the clean energy economy is a major contributor to the creation of new, high-paying jobs. Here wind and solar power are king. If you drive through the farm fields of southern Minnesota, you will see wind farms that stretch as far as the eye can see. With solar, there are some large-scale solar farms but the real excitement is the small-scale commercial and residential solar generation that is complementing the large-scale wind turbines.
From an energy production standpoint, this makes sense. A diversified renewable energy portfolio is one that that includes large wind (which provides intermittent power) along with solar that also is intermittent but often generates power when the wind isn’t blowing (and vice versa). Also, the small-scale nature of solar makes it more reliable, less subject to local weather systems.
So the proposed clean energy plan would leverage the fast-growing and high-wage industries in energy. It also brings to bear perhaps the best financing mechanism to spur clean energy growth (the so-called “fee and dividend”). The way fee and dividend works is a fee is charged to companies that produce greenhouse gas emissions. No longer would society be subsidizing the costs from carbon pollution.
The revenue from the fees would be returned to citizens so that it becomes a revenue-neutral tool. There is no net increase in cost or increase in income. What the fee and dividend method does, however, is reward people and companies for good choices. If you make choices that reduce your greenhouse gas contributions, you end up with extra money at the end of the year. On the other hand, if you make poor choices, you end up with less money. I think of this as a tax that advantages the smart over the, well, less smart.
What is also exciting about the plan is that a portion of the fees would go to fund clean-energy technology and tax credits. For instance, residents would get funds to offset the costs of energy purchases. So when residents insulate their house, buy solar panels, or install high-efficiency heat pumps, part of that cost is covered.
It will be interesting to see if similar plans emerge nationally. Most importantly, it will be interesting to see whether the climate change and energy topic becomes something that political candidates actively run on. In the past, this issue has been low on voter priorities lists. But, if proposing bold new plans can get votes, that may change – and quickly.
I will also be watching how people on the right side of the political aisle view these plans. In truth, this plan has a lot that so-called libertarians or even fiscal conservatives would like. It creates a reward system that is revenue neutral. It penalizes bad choices and rewards good choices. It also reflects the fact that not charging the polluters means that the rest of us pay for the costs.
Whether it is more severe hurricanes, crop-killing droughts, intense storms and flooding, or sea-level rise, these impacts cost us. And it just isn’t right that the industries that have created the problem (and fought to have us neglect the problem) should be getting a free ride. I don’t know any conservatives who think that. I also don’t know any conservatives who want a dirty planet to hand our children. While conservatives often dislike solutions for handling climate change, “fee and dividend” is a concept that many support.
In full disclosure, I have endorsed Rebecca Otto in her election contest, because of her nation-leading climate and energy plan. This article is not intended to be a further endorsement, but rather a reflection on how exciting new proposals to truly handle the climate/energy problem are being developed and used by candidates for office.
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